Over the past several years, I have heard and read so many stories about legendary Notre Dame football coach, Ara Parseghian. Countless examples of how he was a truly incredible man. But two things that I’ve read today, so very eloquently, and yet so very simply, explain the “aura of Ara.”
Earth lost a legend, and heaven gained an angel.
The first is from my dear friend Tracey, who met Coach Parseghian with me last fall at the Mike McCoy Ministries golf tournament. She wrote to me, “Earth lost a legend, and heaven gained an angel.” Tracey and I were able to spend time with Coach last year at the Mike McCoy Ministries golf tournament, along with several players who played for Coach Parseghian at Notre Dame. It was an incredible chance for us to not only get to spend some one-on-one time with Coach, but to also see the special interactions between Coach and his former players. His mind was incredibly sharp, and he remembered moment after moment like they were just yesterday; simply incredible.
Tracey was one of the photographers for the event last year, and here are a few of her thoughts on Coach Parseghian. “This is my favourite image (right) of Ara that I took at an event in 2016. I love the logo on the sweater – it may well have been a monogram I thought.
I remember asking him if it was okay that I was shooting candid photos essentially right in his face while he was doing some autographs. He smiled and indicated the chair across from him and said ‘it won’t distract me. I’ve been signing my name long enough’ and went about his business. Through the signing he would pause and read or browse through whatever was put in front of him and recall a small story about it with crystal clarity. At times I almost forgot to snap the shots because I was so caught up listening to him relive the memories. Every time I see his signature now I just have to smile with the memory of his voice.”
America lost a legend today.
The second is from another dear friend, Dr. Amber Selking. “America lost a legend today. And it wasn’t because of the National Championships he’s won, but rather because of the number of lives he won as a husband, father, coach, & leader. His legacy is not just one of trophies but one of impact. I’m reminded afresh today that if our first intent is the latter, the former will often follow…but regardless of hardware, it’s the lives we touch that matter most. Thanks, Coach, for your example.” #NDFamily
In speaking with my father tonight, who was a student at Notre Dame when Coach Parseghian arrived on campus, he told me the following: “I can still remember the first day he arrived on campus … it was just electric.” Coach came to Notre Dame and found a way to change the momentum, to make an impact on not only his players, but the coaches and students at Notre Dame as well; and to do what everyone told him could not be done.
Coach Ara had established his legacy many years before…
I love to hear his former players talk about the incredible man, coach and role model that was Ara Parseghian. Michael Townsend told me today, “Coach Ara had established his legacy many years before because he was a great leader, a great man, and a great Father. His ability to take young men and turn them into grown males was art he strived in. Also, by the way, he also made them great football players at Notre Dame University as each of them meet their scholastic requirements. Coach will be missed by many but far more by the players that played under his oversight.”
When Ara first met with the team…
The following is an excerpt from John Huarte’s chapter from my second book, “The Men We Became: More Echoes From the End Zone,” speaking about his beloved coach.
Some coaches have a special knack of being able to recognize when their players
are not being utilized to their full potential and to move them around to where
they will shine the brightest. Ara Parseghian not only had that skill, but also was
one of the best coaches in college football at getting the most out of his players.
“When Coach Parseghian arrived at Notre Dame, he moved a lot of guys
around and into new positions. Parseghian was very adept at evaluating
players and making sure they were in the correct position for their particular
strengths and weaknesses. He was also very skilled at play selection, field position
and knowing what risks to take as well as what risks not to take. Coach
Parseghian is a great man and he was a tremendously skilled coach. He knew
how to handle young college kids and he knew how to do it without overcoaching.
He just told you what you needed to know and let you do the rest.
He came to Notre Dame with a great supporting cast of assistants: Richard
“Doc” Urich, Paul Shoults, and Tom Pagna (who was the backfield coach
and worked very well with me), all of whom coached with Parseghian at
both Miami of Ohio and Northwestern. His other five coaches: John Ray, Joe
Yonto, Dave Hurd, George Sefcik, and John Murphy, were all former Notre
Dame players. Parseghian and his staff really jelled well together and united
our team into a cohesive group that became a very well-oiled machine.”
A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather
than what they are. ~ Ara Parseghian
“It was pure luck for me that Coach Parseghian came along my senior year
and that we had such a big year that season. I set 12 new records that year,
and that was after not playing at all my first two years and only playing a few
times during my junior year. The opportunities that Parseghian gave me that
year gave me the chance to go pro. Parseghian brought a lot of little things to
the table that, as a combined whole, made us into a successful team. When
Ara first met with the team, he announced to us that everyone was going to
get a chance to play, and that he was not going to pick favorites. My classmates
and I were seniors, and he still played us even though we’d be leaving
after the season was over and the younger guys would be with him for a longer
period of time. I respected him for giving each and every one of us an equal
chance. Coach Parseghian also had a remarkable attention to detail. He
would give us very clear instructions as to what he wanted both on offense
and defense. He always made sure you knew exactly what he wanted from
you. In any sport and on any team, during most games, at some point you
will have a mental lapse and this is where penalties occur. Coach Parseghian
would gently remind us in his pre-game speeches that we needed to be fundamentally
sound, to work very hard at being penalty-free, and to be conscious
of taking care of the ball in order to prevent fumbles and interceptions.
He would drill into each and every one of us the details of what he expected
us to do on both offense and defense. When he was done with you, you knew
exactly what he wanted.”
When Coach Parseghian arrived at Notre Dame he took over a team that went 2-
7 in the fall of 1963 and took them to a 9-1 record in 1964. Quite a dramatic
turnaround. How did Parseghian take the same group of guys who had only won
two games the year before and turn them into true college football contenders?
“Parseghian did a great job at making sure we were very well prepared for
game day. When you are prepared, you make fewer mistakes, and when you
make fewer mistakes you win. We also had some very good talent on that
team, and he knew how to bring the talent out of guys. We had a tremendous
group of guys on offense. We also had Kevin Hardy, Tom Regner, Alan Page,
Pete Duranko, Tom Rhoads and Don Gmitter anchoring our strong sophomore
defensive line. And we had a great kicking game with our kicker Kenny
Ivan. When Parseghian took all of these components and put them together
and had us concentrating on not making mistakes, the end result was pretty
good; we won. Our defense was quite disciplined in doing their job and we
(the offense) got the ball handed back to us a lot.”
Coach Parseghian was an extremely talented college football coach and knew
exactly what was required to get his men prepared for game day, but he still had
a little bit of fun with them.
“On the 1964 football squad we had a guard named John Atamian from
Niagara Falls, New York. He was my offensive guard and I was the quarterback
running plays. We were in practice one day and Atamian had instructions
to block one specific person and he blocked the wrong person. Parseghian
noticed the error and said, “Gosh darn it, I’ve never met a dumb Armenian
before!!” (Both John Atamian and Coach Parseghian were Armenian). We all
just died laughing. Atamian went on to play offensive guard in the Canadian
Football League for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Toronto Argonauts,
Saskatchewan Roughriders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Stampeders.
He won the Grey Cup with the Tiger-Cats in 1965 and with the Stampeders
in 1971. He was one tough guy.”
Truly, “Earth lost a legend, and heaven gained an angel.”
Rest in peace, Coach.